Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)

Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Destination not journey

Reviewing the last column, I wondered when we started to avoid driving

Reviewing the last column, I wondered when we started to avoid driving. In the ‘70s we made the round trip from the Fairbanks area and beyond to the fish site in north Kenai every year and looked forward to the trips. Luckily those didn’t start until after the parks opened, so we didn’t have to make the drive down the Richardson, or we might not have looked so happily on them, but they were not a burden to do then.

We’d come south in late May, usually leisurely, stopping to see friends at Carlo Creek, north of Cantwell, who would be just opening their lodge for the season, then maybe at Willow, where my sister lived at the time. And on to the Kenai, getting to the fish site in time to pick up the boats and gear from our friends’ boatyard. Probably have a cup of coffee and catch-up session, then call it a day and make plans to start getting things opened up the next morning.

We could make the drive in 14 hours, if necessary. Two hours to Fairbanks, two to Healy. Four to Willow then four more to Kenai. The additional two hours gave us time to stop for gas and to eat, make allowances for traffic or for road construction and then get to the fish site with time to unpack a few things and settle in.

The return trip in late August was about the same. We may spend some time shopping for the coming school year, and pass a night or two with friends or family, but we’d be back to wherever ready to start real life again in just a couple of days. We did that for several years, until we moved to the Kenai. Then we made the trip north at least twice a year to visit family and friends besides all the daily driving necessary to have a life.

Hubby and I are both from that really old generation that grew up driving. Nearly all of us learned very young to herd some type of motorized vehicle, first sitting on somebody’s lap, then in low gear creeping down some back road, sitting on a pillow barely able to see through the steering wheel, as dad admonished you to pay attention and turn right! turn right!

I practiced my driving in a ‘48 Dodge with the gear shift on the steering column, but still clutch engaged. The configuration was pretty much the same as a floor shift. (We wouldn’t be clutchless, pulling it in to gear and going for another several years.) I could drive to the end of the short driveway, but couldn’t go onto the main road to turn around, so had to back up to the yard, then do it again. Two good lessons in one. I was a really good backer upper!

We moved when I was about 12 to a place with a mile-long drive. The first time mom said go get the mail, I thought I’d been given the best privilege in the world. Luckily, I could turn around without going onto the main road, so didn’t have to back that mile from the mail box to the house.

Even after we retired in the early ’90s, we drove a lot. Two trips in the Lower 48 to visit all the contiguous states. We chose to drive because it’s easier to go anywhere you want, and see out of the way places. Like the bowels of New York City. That was by accident and a wrong turn rather that design. A friendly stranger asked us where we were supposed to be. We told him and he said “Follow me!” We did, and he took us to the freeway and pointed which direction; we honked our thanks and were off to Pennsylvania. A week later we found ourselves at a one-gas-pump roadhouse in the back roads of Okefenokee Swamp, with several good old boys sitting around. A fill up and a cup of coffee later and we were on our way. It is gratifying what an Alaska license plate does for your cred.

We did get to all 48. Drove lots of miles out of the way, but enjoyed the sights and people. Even visited some distant cousins and ate drum fish on the Mississippi in a little hometown cafe. Then came home and drove up to Healy the next week to celebrate someone’s birthday.

So I’m not sure when we started not wanting to drive anyplace. Even a trip to Soldotna takes a couple days planning these days. In the past it was the thrill of the trip. Today it is the joy of the destination. But until someone perfects the transporter, I guess we need to keep the car.

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